5 Keys to Handling Judgmental and Opinionated Family

How to respond when someone challenges your life choices

Posted Dec 23, 2015

“Why aren’t you married YET?”

“When will you get a REAL job?”

“Why do you raise your kids like THIS?”

“Why don’t you do something BETTER with your life?”

Family get-togethers are often times when one has to deal with judgmental and opinionated relatives. These individuals may presume that they “know better” when it comes to how you should live your life, even when your choices as an adult are reasonable*. How can you effectively handle difficult relations who insist on imposing their views? Below are five important keys, with references from my book (click on title): “How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult People”. Not all of the tips below may apply to your particular situation. Simply use what works and leave the rest.

1.  Set Boundaries Diplomatically

When a relative insists on levying her or his opinion onto you, respond assertively and diplomatically with “I” and “It” statements. For example, if someone says to you: “When are you going to settle down?” respond with any combination of the following:

“I prefer to focus on other priorities right now.”

“I prefer not to have attachments right now.”

“It’s important for me to take the time I need before settling down.”

“It doesn’t work for me to settle down right now.”

“I made a promise to myself that I will establish myself before settling down.”

What these “I” and “It” statements have in common is that they are more difficult to outright disagree with. After all, you’re simply exercising your own choice as an adult. Should a relative insist on grilling you, avoid getting defensive by engaging in arguments or justifications. Say, briefly and succinctly, that “it’s my choice.” Repeat the short “I” and “It” statements until the difficult relative gives up.

2.  Say: “Thank You” to Terminate the Topic

An effective way to halt unsolicited advice is simply to say “thank you” in a firm tone of voice. It’s a polite and yet powerful way to indicate that you no longer wish to discuss the matter. You can use “thank you” as part of a diplomatic and/or assertive statement. For example:

“I appreciate your input. THANK YOU.”

“I’m okay with the way things are, but THANK YOU.”

“I’m happy with my decision right now, but THANK YOU.”

How long can an opinionated relative keep up with her or his jabber if you keep saying “thank you”? Probably not much.

3.  Change the Topic

If a stubborn relative doesn’t take your diplomatic hints, and continues to pursue an unwelcome issue, take control of the situation by changing the topic. You can do this easily by posing questions of a completely different nature back to the relative (pick a subject she or he will enjoy talking about). Or, if you’re in a group environment, ask your question to someone else. Cut off the stream of unsolicited advice, and redirect the focus.

4.  Change the Topic with an Ally

This tips works well in group get-togethers. If you anticipate ahead of time that an opinionated relative will give you a hard time, make arrangements with an empathetic family member (an “ally”) in advance. When the judgmental relative begins to pontificate, either have your ally interrupt and begin a new topic, or you can initiate a different conversation with the ally.

Should you ask for your ally’s help to directly confront the difficult individual? Perhaps in some circumstances, especially if the ally has credibility in the eyes of the challenging relative. In general, however, it’s best to simply switch topic, and let the opinion of the judgmental relative vanish into thin air.

5. If All Else Fails, Walk Away and Keep a Healthy Distance

Not every difficult person is worth grappling with. Your time is important, and your peace of mind a priority. In the face of an extremely negatively entrenched relation, simply say you have to go, and diplomatically make your exit. If you’re at a family get-together, keep a healthy distance by spending most of your time with other family members in a separate space. Think twice before obligating yourself to interact with the judgmental relative.

If you find yourself dealing with difficult family members or other challenging individuals, there are many strategies and skills you can utilize to help restore respect and cooperation. In my book (click on title): “How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult People”, you will learn how to maintain composure, ways to be proactive instead of reactive, how to set boundaries, keys to effective communication in personal relationships, and seven types of power you can utilize to compel cooperation.

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Source: nipreston.com
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Source: nipreston.com

Also available (click on title):

"Are You Too Nice? How to Gain Appreciation and Respect"

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Preston Ni, M.S.B.A. is available as a presenter, workshop facilitator, and private coach. For more information, write to commsuccess@nipreston.com, or visit www.nipreston.com.

© 2015 by Preston C. Ni. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright violation may subject the violator to legal prosecution.

*This article is intended for readers whose reasonable adult life choices are being judged. In situations where clear harm is being done to oneself and/or others, intervention may be needed.